The Other Side of Animation 289: New Gods: Yang Jian Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Light Chaser Animation has been a rather fantastic new addition to the animation game. Since its founding in 2013, they have made it their goal to elevate the animation scene in China after years of stagnation and questionable quality. While they haven’t made a banger every single time, their contribution to the animation scene has been nothing but positive, especially after  2019, which was just a good year for China’s film scene with three major hits with The Wandering Earth, Nezha, and Light Chaser’s White Snake. After that, they have been hitting it out of the park. They are one of the most well-known animation houses in China, and they are putting out some killer films like New Gods: Yang Jian. 

Directed by Ji Zhao, and written by Muchuan, This is the second film in the New Gods franchise that takes place after New Gods: Nezha Reborn. Our story follows Yang Jian, dubbed by Nicholas Andrew Louie. He used to be a powerful god, but after an incident that happened 1500 years ago, he is now skating on by in life as a bounty hunter, as he and his crew go from bounty to bounty so their ship doesn’t run out of fuel and they don’t starve. After taking care of a recent bounty, they are approached by a mysterious woman named Wanluo, dubbed by Christine Lin. She requests Yang to help capture a young man named Chenxiang, who has taken a precious and important artifact with powerful properties. Yang Jian takes on the task as he tries to find this individual, leading to conspiracies, murder, and finding out what exactly is going on with the incident that happened so long ago and the characters at play in this overall scheme of things. 

Who knew that they could top the world-building from the previous film? What we get in this outing is essentially a steampunk take on Cowboy Bebop, where we follow our bounty hunter and his crew through different cities and unique locations, travel through warp stations, fight criminals from the underworld and the deities that help run things, all of which is backed by some very funky jazz/blues-like tunes. Of course, all of this is mixed with the distinct identity of the architect, which is so full of life, details, and personality. It’s rather shocking how much they fit into each scene as you truly feel like you are traversing a living world with bustling crowds and beautiful landscapes that show a world ravaged by war and other cataclysmic events. There are so many neat world-building moments, like the energy Chexiang steals during the early part of the film being guarded by a multi-armed beast with eyes in the palm of its hands. They put in a lot of effort to make the world feel cohesive and sensible as we explore a world where demons and gods use ships to race across the skies. Not only that, but we also have some of the most well-executed fight sequences seen in animation. At first, you think they aren’t going to bring back the power abilities from the previous film for this one due to how low-key and grounded the fights are during the beginning hour of the two-hour runtime. Then, during an important fight sequence with an obstacle in Chenxiang’s way, the powers come back, revealing how certain individuals can unlock special powers from their past. The studio really knows how to make these powers feel grand in scale and larger than life, especially when we see Yang Jian unleash his powers after so much of the film had him be like an animated version of Jackie Chan as he tries to avoid aggressive action unless required. It makes sense, due to how Yang’s story arc is basically holding onto the regrets of his past actions, and trying to let go of them. There are many twists and turns with how the story unfolds, with it feeling so cut and dry with what’s going on until you dive deeper and deeper into the morally gray and messy history and wires that are crossed between everyone involved. Some characters are holding back secrets from others, and some manipulate and use others for their own selfish needs. It’s a fascinating journey as it goes from steampunk action to fantastical action thriller as everything falls into place. We go from Yang being a laid-back reluctant hero who would rather not get involved with the bigger picture and then seeing him push against literal gods to fix the mistakes from the past, taking down the threat that wants to unleash powerful chaotic forces to wipe the world clean. 

Animation-wise, it might feel like they are sticking close to the human designs and visual fidelity that their previous films have used, but they find ways to still have these creative touches from the combination of CGI and ink painting visuals. When they look good from the ghetto, no need to make as many improvements as you would think. Sure, I want to see them experiment like other studios doing stuff like China’s other major release this year, Deep Sea, but New Gods is doing enough to not feel repetitive. The matter of fact is that all of the designs are appealing to look at and aren’t detracting from the story and experience of the film. The cast is great and the English dub is also doing fantastic with the cast that includes Nicholas Andrew Louie, Luke Naphat Sath, Parry Shen, Christine Lin, James Sie, Johnny Young Bosch, Stephanie Sheh, Su Ling Chan, David Chen, Angela Tan, Mick Lauer, Jimmie Yamaguchi, and many others. The music, as mentioned before, is a mixture of both jazz and fantastical. It gives the film a different flavor of music compared to the last film.

While some may prefer the dieselpunk visual look of the first New Gods film, and while this film makes some small stumbles in the second half, New Gods: Yang Jian is exactly the change of pace everyone should want to go out and find if they are getting burned out by US animation. It has a lot of the best aspects from Light Chasers Animation, and with this obviously building up of an epic franchise, we will have to see where they go with this retelling of mythological epics and their continued evolution of incredible CGI animated fare. Next time though, we will be talking about the next film in the Sword Art Online retelling films with Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 288: The Amazing Maurice Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You would think for such a famous author, Terry Pratchett, the creator of the popular Discworld series, there would be more adaptations of his work. His writing was whimsical, charming, and filled with delightful bits of humor and memorable characters. There haven’t been too many out in the wild and when you find them, they are not all that accessible. The most animated-related adaptation is probably Wyrd Sisters or Soul Music, which is noted for having the late great Christopher Lee who played the voice of Death. How on earth do we have a Discworld point-and-click adventure game, but not a Discworld animated series or animated feature? Still, I’m sure the estate is picky with what gets adapted, and who knows, maybe some of his work is easier to adapt than others for a feature film-length experience. This is where The Amazing Maurice comes into play and is one of the first feature films in the US in 2023.

Based on the book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, this film is directed by Toby Genkel and written by Terry Rossio, who co-wrote some of your childhood favorite animated features like Aladdin, Shrek, and live-action films like The Mask of Zorro and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The story revolves around a talking cat named Maurice, voiced by Hugh Laurie, who works with a human named Keith, voiced by Himesh Patel, to clear any town or city of rats. Though the thing that many will not know is that the two of them actually work with the group of rats that just so happen to be in town when they arrive. These include a few named ones like Darktan, voiced by Ariyon Bakare, Peaches, voiced by Gemma Arterton, Sardines, voiced by Joe Sugg, Nourishing, voiced by Julie Atherton, and Dangerous Beans, voiced by David Tenant. As they head into town for one last con, they realize something is up when there are no rats to be had or seen. With the help of the mayor’s daughter Malicia, voiced by Emilia Clarke, can they solve the town’s mystery and take down an individual named Boss Man, voiced by David Thewlis? 

One of the first details that should be pointed out about this film is the animation. Listen, it’s going to be a bit before the major studios put out their films, and that means we are going to get a couple of smaller releases before March and April. So, you should adapt your expectations to what varying degrees of quality you will probably see on the big and small screen. What’s impressive about this is how great the character animation is. You will see where the budget was invested, since despite having a mostly empty-looking city, the character animation is the best aspect of the film. The team of animators did these little details here and there that bring so much charm into the characters we see onscreen. Doing something as simple as Sardine’s movements differently than the other rats is such a fun little detail that people will probably not see or care about when first seen onscreen. It perfectly encapsulates his character and personality without hearing a single bit of dialogue. A lot of the comedy is executed well also. Even the villain has some of my favorite character animation of the year so far, due to how ragdoll he moves, but is still immensely imposing and threatening. While stills may not do his design justice, Maurice looks great. Just a quirky and cartoony cat that has a multitude of different facial expressions. Sure, a lot of the backgrounds and environments are empty and flat, but they do look nice. It’s not like they look like first-draft rough renders or anything like that. It’s polished for what the possibly small budget for this was. 

As for the story, it’s mostly a journey of connection through our characters realizing why they are important for one another and finding their inner talent and being able to save the day from actual corrupt forces that want to do bad in the world. The fact we have a group of flawed thieves is perfect for what the story is all about seeing as how they are crooks, but they aren’t literally stealing everything from right under the town’s people’s noses. I mean, they are stealing cash at first, but not to the extent the villains are. Sometimes, it’s fun to have flawed protagonists. You just have to make them likable, and while only some of the rats get personalities and names you can remember, they are likable. Maurice is egocentric and cocky, but he gets more sympathetic as time goes on. The human characters are pretty okay. The only one who has any real major personality is Emilia Clarke’s character, who is meta and self-aware about the ways stories are told and the tropes that unfold from within them. Keith is a decent wide-eyed and likable lead, but he has the more typical route of becoming a real hero. It really helps though that it has a killer voice cast that has been listed in the top part of this review. Cast the characters wrong, and it could derail everything. It also helps that this wasn’t a film that needed to be dubbed over since the stars are big enough for their own movie. For the comedy, it is more dialogue driven with wordplay and the reliant eeriness of the meta nature of the female lead. It isn’t always consistently funny, but it’s consistently charming. That’s more of a victory than if it had the most laughs. Sometimes, being more consistent is better than being ambitious but inconsistent. Also, if you are curious, yes, a certain fan-favorite character does show up, but he isn’t in the film a whole lot. 

In general, while it probably won’t be winning any major awards, The Amazing Maurice is a delightful surprise during a part of the year that was originally a time to dump smaller films to write off as failures or for people to catch up on the award season fodder. If you can see it in theaters, then give it a watch! Seeing a mostly positive reception to the film definitely makes this the most accessible and watchable film brought over by Viva Kids, and the fact they are confident enough to give it a theatrical release is admirable. Now, how big that release ends up being is probably the usual NYC and LA release and not an actual wide release. Still, if you can find time to watch this film, then do it! Definitely recommend checking it out while we wait until Netflix and the big studios drop their big films. Now then, it’s time to go big and epic as we talk about New Gods: Yang Jian. 

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 285: Puss in Boots The Last Wish Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

A lot can change for a franchise when it is now over 20 years old. The Shrek franchise is one of the most influential franchises in the world of animation. With all that said, it is interesting to look back and see what has changed from 2001 to now. Animation and storytelling in the medium of filmmaking have evolved and while you can’t take away the impact the first film had, it’s easy to see how the franchise has moved away from Shrek to the other popular character of the series, Puss in Boots. It has honestly outlived the rest of the franchise due to having a popular Netflix animated series years after there were any talks or plans to really bring the brand back to life. Sure, there were talks about how a new Puss in Boots film started all the way back in 2012, but they didn’t really get the ball rolling until six or so years ago. This was probably due to being on and off in development because of what was going on with DreamWorks at that point in time before and after they got bought out by Universal, and Illumination’s Chris Melandandri taking up the job to executive produce and help helm both Illumination and DreamWorks. Obviously, it got a boost in getting put back in production after 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s interesting to see how one character has become its own franchise within a major franchise. I guess you can call it “franchiseception” or some other outdated pop culture joke. Either way, this film got audience-goers wondering what direction this film would go in, and how it might or might not be a testing ground to see if people still cared about the franchise. There was also the push of the development of a fifth Shrek film, resulting in one of 2022’s best animated films and one of the best films from the studio. 

This film is directed by Joel Crawford, written by Tom Wheeler and Tommy Swerdlow, and created at DreamWorks Animation. The story follows the titular brave, fearless, and heroic individual we all know and love named Puss in Boots, voiced once again by Antonio Banderas. After having a party that results in the slaying of a giant, he’s about to perform another toe-tapping tune, when Puss ends up dying. After being told by the town’s doctor/vet/jack-of-all-trades that he only has one more life, Puss stomps out, mad that he was told to basically hang up his boots and live a peaceful life. After having an encounter with one of DreamWorks’ most imposing antagonists, voiced by Wagner Moura, and losing against this dangerous foe, Puss goes into hiding at Mama Luna’s for the remainder of his days. Upon meeting a dog that’s hiding at Luna’s named later as Perrito, voiced by Harvey Guillen, the house is ransacked by a group of bounty hunters that force Puss to jump back out of retirement to find this wishing star to gain back his nine lives. Along the way, Puss and Perrito join back up with Kitty Softpaws, voiced by Salma Hayek, and try to avoid the grasps of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, voiced by Florence Pugh, Way Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo,  and Big Jack Horner, voiced by John Mulaney. Can Puss realize what’s important in living a good life? Will he avoid the grasp of this new dangerous foe? Will Perrito not have some of the darkest humor in the film? 

The big thing with DreamWorks is that they are never in one spot in terms of tone with every film they make. Some of them are more story-driven. Some are more comedy-driven, and leave plot and emotional connections to the side. Some even try to balance it out in both drama and comedy. Sometimes, it doesn’t really work. You have some films that are all jokes, but no cohesive story, or the story wasn’t good enough to walk alongside the jokes that were being thrown a mile a minute. Sometimes, they struggle with keeping a tone that feels consistent, and it has only worked a couple of times. Mostly in their Kung Fu Panda films has it worked the best. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish though? It has reached that point where its humor and drama are perfectly synced with one another. Who would have thought that a legacy sequel to a spin-off of the franchise would go this hard with its story, themes, action, animation, and characters? It could have easily lapped up the nostalgia from people who have made the franchise live on by having it be a part of their childhood and through the internet culture of memes. Instead, they didn’t make a film until they had a story to tell, which follows Puss’s arc about him realizing his own morality and what’s important in his life. It also tackles elements of found family and dealing with things like death. Oh, and shout-out to the small story-important moment of introducing viewers to what panic attacks look like and what Perrito as a service dog’s job is to do. You will rarely see a studio tackle something like that and we can only hope more studios are willing to tackle some difficult topics or show some things that happen in real life. 

It’s a shockingly complex film despite it also having some of the best comedy in it, not just relying on making references to real-world things or doing a simple flip or take on a pre-existing fairy tale trope. It all comes from the characters, and at every point, it almost becomes too much with how much the entire cast steals the scenes when they are the focus on the screen, or when they banter with other characters. While many are talking about our mysterious wolf friend for being one of the most realized villains DreamWorks has ever put on screen, Jack Horner is an absolute scene stealer and such a distinct villain idea that it’s amazing that the previous films didn’t try something like a nursery rhyme character with a severe case of inferiority. They could have easily done that for the third and fourth film, but instead, we got the third film rehashing one of the villains from the second film, and the fourth film using another fairytale character as a villain. Nothing feels undercooked or throwaway. 

The other element that people have adored has been making buzz in just about every review and word-of-mouth discussion of the film, the animation. Yes, every studio is taking notes from Spider-Verse, but who cares anymore? The animation industry has needed a kick in the butt to evolve and expand upon its visual horizon. It might only do the lower framerate thing during certain action beats, but the painted look of the world and designs are gorgeous. We can finally make concept art into reality, and all it takes is for the team to do it from ground zero when the film is in production. DreamWorks has some of the best character animation in the industry and the humans have finally moved away from the realism route the previous Shrek films took and are way better-looking. It makes you wonder what DreamWorks could do with previous releases if they were able to go all the way with the stylized looks of things with films like Monsters vs. Aliens. DreamWorks is also incredible with their action set pieces, and that is no different here as this has some of the most exciting action in animation history.  Heitor Pereira crafts the exciting and atmospheric soundtrack and worked on franchises like Despicable Me and films like Madagascar 2, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, and Pearl Harbor. The voice cast is stellar. Not only is it apparent that Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek do not skip a beat with their characters, but everyone else feels more immersed within their characters. You can probably pick up who they are, but they are never being as distracting as certain films that have star-studded casts.  Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, Harvey Guillen, Samson Kayo, Joh Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Florence Pugh, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph do a great job with their roles and put in some of the best voice performances of 2022. 

No matter how many lives you have, no matter how you slice it with this new iteration of the Shrek franchise, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a triumph, not only for the studio or the franchise but animation in general. It might have some of the usual clunky DreamWorks tropes and ideals, but they are overshadowed by a fantastic script, the most endearing characters in the franchise, and some of the most stunning anime from 2022. Now then, next time, we will talk about the new season of a well loved animated series from 2022. Sadly, it is coming out when the higher ups of Wizards of The Coast and Hasbro are trying to be really scummy about Dungeons & Dragons. You will see what I mean soon. 

Rating: Essential

My Favorite Animated Films from 2021

Now then, the original plan was to do a list for My Most Disappointed Animated Films of 2021, My Runner-Ups for Best Animated Films of 2021, and My Favorite Animated Films of 2021, but we will just cut it down to My Favorites, due to how it’s a new year, I am so far behind, and I want to get this list done. I’ll try to do more of these varied lists for 2022. I hope you understand, and if you want to see the entire list of films, here is a hyperlink to my Letterboxd list. Let’s get some honorable mentions out of the way! 

Honorable Mentions: Luca, New Gods: Nezha Reborn, Seal Team, Josep, Raya and The Last Dragon, and Flee.



Now then, let’s get started so we can talk about 2022’s films next! 



10. Fortune Favors Lady Nikkuko

I know some people weren’t happy with this film due to how it wasn’t a big ambitious follow-up to Watanabe’s previous film with Children of the Sea, but this coming-of-age dramedy about a mother and her daughter in a small sea-side town, finding connection with not just life and the people around them, but each other is a charming experience. It might not feel as grand on the big screen, but it sure looked nice up with Studio 4C’s amazing animation and Watanabe’s detailed directing of a fairly offbeat kind of story. It has its moments where the jokes fall flat, but the heart is in the right place.

9. Poupelle of Chimney Town

CGI animation in Japan, whether its use is in anime series or films, has evolved. That they can now craft a vibrant and distinct dieselpunk world in this film shows that the medium of CGI animation is still evolving. The medium is used to tell a rather sweet coming-of-age tale about a boy and his friendship with a mysterious robot in a capitalist and smoke-covered world. It might be a little clunky at some points, but it’s a fun little story that is visually distinct and a thrill to see from beginning to end for film lovers of all ages. 

8. Calamity

It’s a real shame this got such a small US release and one that was so barebones. It’s a crime it only has a digital-only release with no extras or an English dub for people who prefer a dub over subtitles. The director of Long Way North’s follow-up is a rip-roaring western adventure with some beautiful visuals that really show the western landscape throughout every scene with some of the best character development of any animated film from 2021. 

7. The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily 

Do you know what else is a crime? This gorgeous and incredible animated film still doesn’t have a proper US release for some unknown reason, when it’s one of the most visually stunning features in animation. You could literally frame every frame as a painting and get something out of it due to this film’s striking use of CGI and 2D animation. It definitely uses emotional and fairytale logic to tell its story and presents its themes of colonialism, greed, and discrimination to the audience, but not every film needs to be logical to be enjoyable, and it’s more of a crime that a company like GKIDS has yet to pick this film up. 

6. Words That Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

People worry too much about creativity and originality in storytelling, and are willing to overlook films that are just straight-up rock solid and charming as all get out. It’s a bit of a bummer this film is stuck on Netflix, but the fact they brought over this adorable rom-com between two teens who feel like outcasts due to one thing or another is also a runner-up in 2021’s most visually stunning animation seen on screen. Sometimes, all you need is a well-executed experience in storytelling that will carry you through to the end credits. 

5. Encanto

It sure does feel like it has been a hot minute since Disney had a huge worldwide hit animated feature since 2016, right? While the film might be entering its backlash phase due to how it was always in the public eye since its November release on Disney+, there is a reason why this film became beloved due to its soundtrack and its focus on familial drama instead of your typical Disney good vs evil formula. Sure, the music might have some of the typical aspects of Lin Manuel Miranda’s music-writing quirks, and I get why people felt divided by its ending, but I give Disney kudos that they want to make animated films that deal with topics that were not seen in a lot of US animated fare. Granted, by now, we have had a few, and we could use some shaking up, but the fact is that Encanto is still a fun charming musical adventure that was a refreshing take after a couple of years of making non-stop sequels. 

4. The Summit of the Gods

This film that Netflix sadly buried on their service was a beautiful journey of human ambition and what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goals. When people want more “adult” animation, it’s not more stuff like Paradise PD, but stuff that tells a story that you don’t normally see in animation, which shows what you can do with the incredible medium of animation. With stunning landscapes, interesting characters, and some of the best animation from 2021, The Summit of the Gods is a film that sadly should have had more people watching it. 

3. Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish

With the current trend of every film needing to be big and bombastic in the tentpole area of the film-going experience, it’s always good to remember that story, writing, and character are more important than big flash visual effect shots. This is a coming-of-age story about dealing with the trials and tribulations of life and overcoming hardship and challenge, all wrapped up in a very nice romcom setting with some of Studio Bones’ most visually lush animation that has ever come from one of the top-tier animation houses in Japan. It might have a few story beats that are predictable, but the overall journey is important, and if I enjoyed it from start to finish on a consistent basis, then it did its job. 

2. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Honestly, these next two could basically tie for first place, as Sony Pictures Animation somehow raised the bar in stylized animation with a quirky family dramedy about the disconnect between a father dealing with his daughter moving out for college that just happens to line up with a robot apocalypse. With some of 2021’s most stylized visuals, there was a reason why this film took the world, Netflix, and animation fans by storm with its complex and intensely hilarious themes and comedy. Just a delight from start to finish, but if we had to pick a film that could beat it by the slimmest of margins, it would be…

1. Belle

I know some people find this film too overly ambitious and unfocused, with its combination of a coming-of-age story, a musical, a drama, a romance, and commentary about the social media age which is what we are dealing with in this day and age, but you know what, the emotional throughline of a girl dealing with the loss of her mom and becoming a stronger individual really pulls it all together. With jaw-dropping visuals, bombastic and powerful musical numbers, and some of the best storytelling from the director himself, there is a reason why this film beat out The Mitchells vs. The Machines by the slimmest of margins.

The Other Side of Animation 284 – Scrooge: A Christmas Carol

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)



One of the biggest problems with having a timeless classic is how it branches off into a multitude of different adaptations of the said classic. You will see them take one form, and then another one, or maybe a musical! And then, you will see that musical get adapted into a film, and then people want their crack at that version of the timeless tale. It’s tough, because you don’t want to radically change anything that makes the original amazing, but not every adaptation needs to fully be a 1 on 1 comparison. You need to have some kind of fingerprint that makes your take distinct due to how many versions of something like A Christmas Carol there are in the world. You can usually find one that has stuck with you whether it has Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, or the film adaptation of the Leslie Bricusse Scrooge starring Albert Finney, which is my favorite version. So, this year’s Christmas review will be of Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, a CGI animated feature that is an animated take on the musical. 

This version of the classic tale is directed by Stephen Donnelly, co-written by Donnelly and the original writer of Scrooge, Leslie Bricusse (which is probably more of a royalty/rights situation due to Leslie passing away in 2021). The animated version of the story obviously stars Mr. Ebaneneezer Scrooge, voiced by Luke Evans. As the story goes, Scrooge hates Christmas with a vengeance and how everyone delights in partaking in it, including his employee Bob Cratchit, voiced by Johnny Flynn. That night on Christmas Eve, Scrooge goes home with his dog Prudence only to have the arrival of the ghostly spirit of Scrooge’s last partner, Jacob Marley, voiced by the High Sparrow himself, Jonathan Pryce. Marley puts the fear of the afterlife in Scrooge and tells him that he will be visited by three spirits. These include the candle wax-like Ghost of Christmas Past, voiced by Olivia Coleman, the bombastic and lively Ghost of Christmas Present, voiced by Trevor Dion Nicholas, and the ghoulishly evil-looking Ghost of Christmas Future. Can Scrooge change his ways? 

So, not to get personal with this review, but the 1970s Scrooge is one of my, if not my favorite Christmas movie. I watch it every year with the family on Christmas Day, and it’s the adaptation of the book I watch the most. So, if I sound more critical, it’s because this incarnation is basing itself on a film that’s close to this critic’s heart. What was one of the fun aspects of the original story is how it’s a cautionary tale, but also gothic horror. It was a dark story, and to be frank, this film does seem like it wanted to have its gothic horror, but their main focus was making a family-friendly version of the tale so it would be in that roundtable of A Christmas Carol viewings for families, alongside the Disney and Muppet version. It leans a bit too much on the family-friendly side, as they do what a lot of Toei animated films used to do all of the time back then with the small animal mascots. Scrooge gets a dog, and The Ghost of Christmas Past and Future share these little sprite-like beings that have no real reason to be there. Sure, depending on the version you watch, Christmas Carol can get dark, but it’s a fun dark, and not intensely stressful like Smile, Nope, or Hereditary. They expand upon Scrooge’s past and show more scenes of his slow turn from a kind human to who he was in the present time period. It just seems like they didn’t need to do this because you get the idea of what happens when the “Happiness” sequence happens, but they shorten that part to make room for more scenes and original song sequences that are exclusive to this version of the film. 

Oh, right, there are original songs in this film, and they are a mixed bag. This wouldn’t be so distracting if they didn’t remove songs from the original musical to make room for these new ones. They feel too modern and really detract when they do use music from the original musical. Not that they aren’t sung well, but the first song used in this version of the film is very forgettable. That being said, you can tell that the animators by Timeless Films did a lot of great work during this opening sequence, and make sure to give this film its own distinct visual flair. It has a lot of bright vibrant colors that do detract from the original’s more somber atmosphere. The other new songs are fine, but they feel out of place with the other ones including Luke Evan’s rock opera song that he sings before Marley arrives. It just has a ton of different story decisions that really do hamper the original tone that, while having its own moments that work, don’t compare to the original. The one song sequence I did like was between Luke Evans and Jessie Buckley, but when push comes to shove, the original version of Happiness is still the best version of that moment in the film when Scrooge sees his past. They even push the side characters even more to the side and don’t leave much of an impression unlike the live-action film. The rest of the humans look great and while they come close to looking like they are from something from either advertisements or some of the more well-known mobile games, the film looks fine for what was assumedly not on a large budget. They throw in a lot of Christmas flair and visuals, but personally, the ghosts got the best design boost by being in animation. The Ghost of Christmas Past and Jacob Marley have probably my favorite visual designs. Marley’s more ice/blue flame look is awesome to see unfold when he arrives and Christmas Past is inspired by a candle and made of wax has some of the best animation in the film. You can tell the animators had a ton of fun making her work. Even if Olivia Coleman is maybe hamming it up too much. Ghost of Christmas Future has the least interesting design, and what makes some other adaptations work is how they handle this specific ghost in general. Even Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis’ take on the ghost does some truly spooky things by making it a shadow along the walls, and that’s great. Sadly, the animation isn’t consistently well done when you get to the Thank You Very Much scene, the animation took a hit and is way too robotic and stiff when it is one of the more darkly comedic and lively scenes from the original musical. The one thing this film doesn’t fully mess up is the stuff with Tiny Tim. I mean, it’s hard to mess up one of the most adorable kids in fiction. If you mess that up, then you aren’t a good director. 

It sounds like this isn’t a very good adaptation, but there is stuff to like. A lot of the animation looks good, and at moments, it really captures the somber and eerie tone of the film even when it’s aiming for a more family-friendly version. The voice cast is pretty good with Luke Evans, Johnny Flynn, Jessie Buckley, Olivia Coleman, James Cosmo, Fra Fee, Rupert Turnbull, Rebecca Gethings, and Giles Terera to name a few of the major actors they got for the film. When it does slow down and show some of the plot beats from the original, it does do those scenes well. The music is composed well by Jeremy Hollen-Smith, and while I’m not super fond of the new and old songs in how they are executed, they are sung well. When you have a guy who was the Genie on the Aladdin Broadway show, you know you are going to have a fantastic Ghost of Christmas Present. 

It’s a solid adaptation, but if it didn’t try to feel so modern and family-friendly, even compared to other more family-friendly adaptations of the source material, it would leave a more lasting impression. It has some solid visuals, a few decent musical numbers, and good voice performances. It’s a fun time, but I wouldn’t call it one of the better films of the year. If you have yet to see this version, then there is a reason to give it a watch. It’s different enough to stand out, but even with my underwhelming impressions of this version, I bet this one will make the rounds every Christmas. Most people will watch more than one version of A Christmas Carol every year during this time period. Either way, see it for yourself and come up with your own thoughts about it. For now, it’s time to relax, work on some editorials, and enjoy the holidays. 

Rating: Rent it (well, it’s a streaming-only film, but still.)

The Other Side of Animation 278: Oni – Thunder God’s Tale Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

2022 has been an extremely chaotic year for animation. Starting with Netflix trying to put out a forest fire as big as Texas, they canceled mostly all of their diverse shows and a mass majority of their animation projects. Not to be outdone, the awful Warner Bros. Discovery pretty much canceled 90% finished projects and screwed over every known talent in the entertainment and animation industry, and that’s not even counting everything else. Seriously, on top of all of this, we are now seeing the anime demand bubble pop via the struggle to keep a healthy group of animators working in a consistently awful work environment, and English dub actors getting screwed over via the Mob Psycho 100 incident. The overall animation industry is also getting scapegoated by inept greedy number-crunching executives that are putting more and more of their hopes and dreams on IP-driven work. It’s heartbreaking to see such an industry use a vibrant medium of storytelling as a bad faith argument of what people actually want to see. Because sooner or later, those pieces of art that are more focused on preserving popular brands are going to die out. Now more than ever, you need to support original projects, and you do that by ignoring and not taking part in the discussion/discourse of whatever new based-on-an-IP thing is out right now, and instead, giving your support to new and original projects like Oni: Thunder God’s Tale

Directed and created by Daisuke Tsutsumi, written by Mari Okada, and produced by a collaborative effort by Tonko House, Megalis VFX, Dwarf Studios, and Marza Animation Planet, this four-episode limited series is about a young girl named Onari, voiced by Momona Tamada. She lives in a village full of Kami with her father Naridon, voiced by Craig Robinson. She is training to bring out her true powers along with her fellow friends who are being taught by Mr. Tengu, voiced by George Takei. As Onari discovers her true powers and who she is, things start to unfold as they have to protect the village from a group of monsters. Can Onari and Naridon save the day? What exactly is up outside of the village? Are the monsters actually threats? What is the true connection between Onari and Naridon? 

Let’s start with the animation. The visuals and delightful designs are drop-dead gorgeous. This is mostly stylized CGI that is animated like stop-motion. That’s wildly impressive, because the sets they use, the designs, the textures, and what have you, look so darn good! It almost looks like real stop-motion. Yes, they aren’t fluidly animated in their movements, but you can still get the point across about their expressions and actions. It’s not like what they are thinking isn’t readable, because it is. The entire look of the show is a pleasing gift for the eyes as we see heavy uses of lighting, shadows, mixed-media elements, and how it just looks like you could reach in and touch the characters themselves. You can tell that the studios involved with bringing life to this limited series were all working with a cohesive goal in mind in how they wanted this to all look. The designs are all adorable, and all have very distinct personalities and diverse ways of movement. Even the designs of what the monsters turn out to be are handled well and don’t clash with the designs of the kami, which is very helpful when you craft up a consistent look and feel for the show. You never want to see a character that absolutely doesn’t match up with other designs in the show or film. 

The voice cast is stellar. The one that left this writer impressed, outside of Momona Tanada’s powerful performance as the excitable yet vulnerable Onari, is Craig Robinson as Naridon. When you usually see Craig, he’s typically playing a version of himself or a more cartoony version of himself that we see most of the time he shows up. Not to say that’s bad, because it isn’t. What’s so fascinating about watching this show is how Naridon doesn’t say a single word, but his movements, grunts and noises, and facial expressions tell you everything. It’s all through visual storytelling and that’s so cool that they went with that for one of the show’s main characters. The other characters are also likable, funny, quirky, and have fun little visual gags that are attached to them. The rest of the cast includes some heavy hitters like Omar Benson Miller, who is just killing it in the voice-acting game right now, Archie Yates, George Takei, Tantoo Cardinal, Yuki Matsuzaki, Brittany Ishibashi, Anna Akana, Charlet Chung, Seth Carr, and Robert Kando rounding out an incredible cast. It’s also an interesting twist on some of these actors who are having to play something fairly different than what they usually get cast in. It’s refreshing to see how much certain actors show that they actually have range. 

Now, as for the story, it’s a very sweet tale that tackles themes of found family, discrimination, the power of fearmongering, and how to become strong to overcome your fears. It looks like a very child-friendly show, but it finds a way through the four episodes to weave in more complex moments, emotionally complicated moments, and quiet moments to let the characters breathe, and allow you to become enveloped in this show’s atmosphere and world, due to how amazing the animation is.  It’s a show that joins the current generation trend of animated entertainment by being made for everyone. That’s because, as we really need to jab and ram into every executive’s head, animation is not a genre, it’s not just for kids, and it can be made for everyone and not just one side or the other. Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is one of those entities that is able to be there for everyone. Young kids will enjoy the cute designs and visuals, whereas everyone else can spot some fantastic visual gags and absorb the themes and commentary that are being told and shown throughout the show. It’s the power of animation, it is for everyone. 






In a year where we have had some rather impressive feats of animated storytelling with stuff like Lost Ollie, The Legend of Vox Machina, Inu-Oh, Bee and Puppy Cat, and Entergalactic, we are still not done with this year as we are about to get a string of fantastic-looking films, and with this limited series that Daisuke Tsutsumi has crafted with their team with Oni: Thunder God’s Tale. It’s four episodes full of charm, wit, laughs, and themes about family, discrimination, saving the environment, and finding your inner strength to take down the fears that are inside all of us. It’s a beautifully crafted world with some of the year’s most distinct and visually stunning and unique animation with its combination of stop-motion, CGI, and some 2D elements as well. It’s on Netflix, and while Netflix has been making some very frustrating and questionable decisions, they still let Daisuke Tsutsumi craft a beautiful story about a big ol’ goofy ogre and his daughter. It maybe could have had one more episode to pace everything out a bit more, but if that’s the only criticism that can come out of this writer’s brain that is essentially saying “I want more of this”, then that’s saying something. Definitely give this incredible series a watch. It’s one of 2022’s best new shows/event series. Now then, next time, we will be taking a trip through devilish punk rock vibes and encounter everyone’s new favorite mortician magicians and their human cohort in the next review. 

Rating: Essential! 

The Other Side of Animation 277: Entergalactic Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In 2022 alone, we have seen what animation can do. We have shows that push the boundaries of what can be defined as adult animation,  films based on TV shows elevate themselves out of the trappings that they could have been stuck with, and you get the idea. Animation is such a unique experience to tell art, and sadly, the entire industry is doing everything in its power to dismiss it as a whole. With whatever Warner Bros. Discovery and especially Netflix are doing with canceling half a dozen projects and removing them off the face of the earth, this medium of storytelling needs to keep pushing back against the higher-ups that don’t understand art or the art that actually moves people. Netflix especially was the streaming service to be on if you wanted to see creative animated projects. It might still be making some, but its “blank check” days are over, and it makes you wonder what couldn’t have been made now that was greenlit almost over a decade ago. Would they have greenlit Del Toro’s Pinocchio? What about City of Ghosts? Centaurworld? The Sea Beast? Wendell and Wild? Maya and the Three? Would they have greenlit today’s review of the multi-media experience of Scott Mescudi’s Entergalactic? Because if the answer is no, then that is damning evidence of what these “creative” higher-ups think about stuff like Entergalactic

Executively produced by Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi) and Kenya Barris, this TV Special is directed by Fletcher Moules and animated by DNEG Animation. It follows a blossoming comic artist named Jabari, voiced by Scott Mescudi himself. He has finally gained a dream job of adapting his ideas for a comic book company. However, just as he is celebrating his victory and living in a bachelor pad while hanging with his two friends Jimmy and Ky, voiced by Timothee Chalamet and Tyrone Griffin Jr., he encounters two women. The first one is his ex whom he broke up with five to six months ago named Carmen, voiced by Laura Harrier, who he has a one-night fling with, but also, he encounters his neighbor, named Meadow, voiced by Jessica Williams. Can Jabari maneuver through his new life and find ways to balance everything out, and does that balancing act include a potential new romance? 

So, when you think of Scott Mescudi and the vibrant world of animation, alongside the fact this film is also cross-promoting his new album of the same name, you think there would be some kind of disaster like what The Carpenters did back in the day with their album Passage that also had a TV special tie-in. Luckily, it’s more than just a fancy piece promoting a new album. Not that it has never happened in animation, due to how animation and promoting music have worked for decades from Looney Tunes to even older than that. What does save this project from being more than a promotional tool is how it weaves an actual story. The music is there, and there are plenty of moments where the music is played over dialogue-less sequences of animation, but the overall film is a romance film. It might be a mood and a vibe at most points when you combine the gorgeous art direction and music, but there is a story here between Jabari and Meadow and their journey of finding one another. Jabari has to deal with his situation of working at a comic company that may have pulled a Disney and only hired him to make something for them, calling his art “too risky” for their audiences, and not truly let him craft his art. Meadow tries to find her path as an artist and what the relationship and dynamics mean to her and Jabari. This romance film is able to let the characters breathe, we get to see how they live and hang out with one another, and it offers a depth that you don’t often see in romcoms or romance movies. It’s not just will they or won’t they. You can easily find yourself invested with the characters or see yourself as one of them here or there. The underlying themes of racism might not be the main focus of the plot, but the main focus is on the relationship between our two lovebirds. Everything that goes on around the two are to enrich the world they live in.

It’s become a bit cliche now to reference how animated projects like this owe a lot of their success to Into the Spider-Verse. That one film yet again kicked down the doors for studios to start doing more with their visuals, and while there is definitely a lot of the more stylish and lush visuals of Spider-Verse, the movements and how characters emote comes off like it had a little bit of City of Ghost in its veins via the low-framerate movements of the characters. Wherever this special got its influences, it perfectly matches up with something you would see Mescudi crafting, and the talented team behind the animation did a fantastic job. While the low-framerate animation can be distracting to some, the individual characters are still extremely expressive, and you can tell what’s going on through their thoughts. It even combines CGI with splashes of 2D animation with Jabari’s comic character, Mr. Rager, and it looks phenomenal. The bright and dark colors mix very well to bring this sunrise/sunset look to most scenes and the colors really pop when they show the characters off during the daytime periods. 

The voice cast is great, and while some celebrity voices don’t get that many lines, everyone plays their individual roles well. Mescudi is likable and relatable as our lead, as he wants to keep true to who he is, but still puts his guard up when he senses something is up. Also, who wouldn’t want to be as chill as him? However, while Timothee and Tyrone do a good job with their roles, The rest of the cast is where it all comes together. When you see Macaulay Culkin pop into the film, it’s endearing, funny, but also heartwarming and deep, and that’s just one of the many fun splashes of personality that comes with having such a distinct cast and story. Jessica Williams is adorable and fun to watch as Meadow, and Laura Harrier brings this passive, and partly aggressive tone to her character who does like Jabari, but clashes with him on an emotional and personal level. The rest of the cast includes Vanessa Hudgens, Christopher Abbott, Daniella Balbuena, Jaden Smith, Keith David, Teyana Taylor, Arturo Castro, Maisha Mescudi, Luis Guzman, and Francesca Reale. The soundtrack is straight-up fantastic. Of course, the main pull are all of the songs Mescudi crafted with a ton of collaborators, and each song felt like they fit the scene like a glove and encapsulate the area in which the film takes place. It definitely makes this film feel like its mood and vibes, but they do a good job gelling with the storytelling. The non-album stuff is very lo-fi and calming, which blends well with the atmosphere the film provides. 

Entergalactic is, simply put, fantastic. It isn’t just a mood, it’s a vibe. It’s an experience where Scott Mescudi takes us through a combination of fantastic music and out-of-this-world visuals with a heartwarming romance between two souls wanting to find where they want to be with their lives. Its story might be a straightforward romance between our two leads, but the themes that it weaves throughout our leads’ journey through love are eye-opening and vibrant with some of 2022’s most luscious visuals. It ain’t afraid to combine intimate relationships, sex, comedy, and 100% vibes via Cudi’s new soundtrack leads to one of the best examples of what kind of stories you can tell via animation. It’s honestly one of the best pieces of art to represent an adult story. More animation needs to be like this, and it’s a real shame that as of writing this review, the animation industry is about to dive into another possible dark age where creativity is frowned upon over what can be made for cheap and they can rake in more money. Entergalactic might be a tie-in with Mescudi’s new album, but it works as a stand-alone film and you should all check it out! Now then, there is no real idea what will be next, but you know it will be animated and offer a wondrous journey into the realm of storytelling. 

Rating: Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 270: Dragon Ball Super – Super Hero Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s finally time to do a review on a Dragon Ball film. It’s shocking that I have yet to talk about one of the biggest franchises in the anime industry, one of the most important shonen action shows for Japan, the US, and well, the entire world. Even if you aren’t into anime, you have at least heard of Dragon Ball or one of the individual series that is connected to the franchise. It was hard to escape during the mid-late 90s and the early-mid 2000s. It’s only recently that we have been getting a resurgence of the franchise with two films Battle of the Gods and Ressurection F, alongside Dragon Ball Super, Dragon Ball Super: Broly…happened, and now we have what is right now, as of this writing, the biggest film in the US right now. Let’s just dive right into the biggest movie in the franchise, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

The film is directed by Tetsuro Kodama, written by Akira Toriyama, and produced by Toei Animation. Instead of following Goku and Vegeta, we instead follow Piccolo, dubbed by Christopher Sabat. He’s training Gohan’s daughter Pan, dubbed by Jeannie Tirado. As the time passes, Piccolo has an issue with feeling like he is being the actual father figure to Pan than her actual dad Gohan, dubbed by Kyle Hebert. While this is going on, the iconic villain organization the Red Ribbon Army, now being led under the radar by Magenta, dubbed by Charles Martinet, obtains a young super scientist named Dr. Hedo, dubbed by Zach Aguilar. They make a deal that Hedo will help Magenta with taking over the world if they can make super androids that are superheroes. That’s how we end up with Piccolo and the Z fighters having to deal with Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, dubbed by Aleks Li and Zeno Robinson. Since they can’t get the help of Goku and Vegeta, can the rest of the gang save the day and stop the Red Ribbon Army from coming back from the pits of the earth to rule the world? 

Let’s talk about the animation. Outside of the goofy title of the film, the big uproar about this film was that it was in CGI. It has some 2D moments and bits, but it was for the first time, all CGI. To be honest, this is basically how Studio Orange, the famed studio behind Beastars, would probably make the film. It might use slower frame rates, and sure, sometimes the backgrounds look like typical CGI anime quality backgrounds or very low poly, but unless you are paying attention to that, you really won’t notice. They also had a ton of nice little animation details from how Piccolo holds his phone or flies a plane to how the doctor Hedo and Magenta eat the Oreos when they have a discussion at the beginning of the film. Some of the vast background shoots look a touch clunky, and you can tell when some buildings look too CGI against the much better-looking humans, but the CGI animation is handled well and you never feel like the action is never hampered by the CGI. The designs look on point, and while they do have some moments where they use 2D animation that are noticeable, we have seen what bad CGI looks like from the anime industry, and this ain’t it. 

The script itself is very self-aware and comedically driven, which isn’t all that shocking to many people that are aware of Toriyama’s style of writing. It’s filled with dialogue gags, puns, goofy gimmick names, a few raunchy jokes here and there, and as many lines as possible to avoid getting dragged through the ground by smarmy internet personalities that make their living off of pointing out “plot holes”. It can be a bit on the nose with how they try to cover up as many loose ends as possible, but at the end of the day, it works because the story isn’t about Goku and Vegeta taking center stage to defeat the new Red Ribbon Army androids. Yes, they may be overexplained, but with how bad media literacy is these days, overexplaining is better than ignoring the fact there will be knuckleheads on the net that will look for anything to complain about for views. 

The overarching story is pretty much focused on Gohan and Piccolo’s relationship and characters as of this point in the franchise’s history. Everyone in the Dragon Ball fandom tends to agree that after the Cell and Buu Saga, Gohan and Piccolo tended to get shafted in terms of how they were represented. Once more powerful and imposing characters were introduced, they got shoved to the sideline. Poor Gohan got turned into a neglectful dad by accident, due to having his dad’s hyper fixation that wrecks everything. It’s to reevaluate the multi-decade-long bond and dynamic that Gohan and Piccolo had, since one of the most memorable story arcs was when Piccolo trained Gohan before the Saiyans arrived in the original show. It’s mostly a reboot/restart to make Piccolo and Gohan bigger players for the next film or TV series, which is nice, since how many times can you stagnate the story by having Goku and Vegeta solve the problem? It’s also a story about how some extremely evil people will take advantage of the ignorance of others, and stoke their anger and rage with misinformation that can lead you down the wrong path to deal with a situation. It’s a very topical story due to what we have been dealing with for the past couple of years. It’s very simple, but the execution of it all works well enough for the story of a Dragon Ball film. You aren’t here to see some big cinematic methodical think-piece film. You aren’t here to see a Makoto Shinkai or a Mamoru Oshii film. You are here to see a strong enough script for a franchise mostly known for action. Luckily, the story is good enough to carry you through the different action set pieces, and the action itself is bombastic, thrilling, and grand in scale. They have definitely learned to move away from how the TV show set up fights, to realizing “hey, we are a movie and can do so much more”! The camera does a good job following along or being right beside the characters so you can feel the most intense impacts of every punch, kick, beat down, and energy blast. The voice cast is also on par with the absurdity, the goofiness, and the serious moments. When you have a stacked cast with talent including Kyle Hebert, Christopher Sabat, Sean Schemmel, Jeannie Tirado, Aleks Le, Zeno Robinson, Zach Aguilar, Charles Martinet, Justin Cook, Jason Marnocha, the always amazing Monica Rial, Sonny Strait, Johnny Yong Bosch is perfect as Broly, Eric Vale, Robert McCollum, Meredith McCoy, Jason Douglas, Ian Sinclair, Erica Lindbeck, Kara Edwards, and Bruce Carney. Naoki Sato is the composer behind the film’s score, and it’s rambunctious, imposing, and thrilling to sit through, and matches the tone of the franchise. 

The criticisms of this film are minor and don’t truly hinder the film’s experience. While the film does enough to catch you up on everything going on, it may be more approachable to fans of the long-running franchise, due to the main focus being on the long-running dynamic between Piccolo and Gohan. Sure, you probably won’t see this film unless you are a fan, but you will get more out of it if you know about the connection our two leads have with one another, and how Piccolo was a surrogate father to Gohan early on in Dragon Ball Z. Some other minor critiques include the humor being hit-and-miss, and how some villains’ characters were fairly weak compared to the great android duo of Gamma 1 and 2. 

Even with those minor complaints, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is, well, for a lack of a better word, super! It’s another action-packed heroic explosion of thrills and laughs that make for a very satisfying theatrical experience, and yet another fantastic film based on a TV show in 2022. If you can go see this film, even if you already have seen it, you should go see it again. When you see that a Japanese-animated film is playing in theaters, you should absolutely go watch it, because we need to make sure more of these films hit theaters. Now then, next time, we take a look at a limited series for Netflix called Lost Ollie

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 267: Luck Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Apple. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Apple for this opportunity.

Well, before we can get to one of the best-animated films of 2022, we have to go through another animated film that has some unfortunate bad luck and baggage that comes with it. Yes, just like Paws of Fury, there is a development history attached to what is Skydance Animation’s first attempt at giving Apple some theatrical quality feature films for their streaming service. It’s just too bad that the main studio behind the film decided to start off on the exact wrong foot by hiring a known sex pest, terrible boss, and ex-founder of Pixar, John Lasseter. It doesn’t help either that when he was brought on board, the original director and one of the actors involved with the film walked out, alongside many other ex-employees who couldn’t believe the head of the company decided to hire a guy who was a known sex pest. It’s never not jaw-dropping how many of the monsters that plague the industry still get work and aren’t permanently blacklisted. Still, you feel badly for the animators and people who worked on this new film by Skydance Animation, because all of that baggage is going to be hanging over the release of their first CGI animated feature, Luck

Directed by Peggy Holmes, written by Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger, and produced by Skydance Animation Madrid (which used to be Illion Studios, the same studio that made 2019’s Wonder Park and 2009’s Planet 51. It stars a teenager named Sam Greenfield, voiced by Eva Noblezada, who is leaving the orphanage system to try to live a fulfilling life. Unfortunately for her, she is also the unluckiest person in the world. Everything she tries to do and be normal at, ends with comedic results with how bad her luck is. One day, she encounters a black cat that drops a lucky penny. Sam uses the penny to get a positive restart in her life, but shortly after she uses it, she loses it. She encounters the black cat again, and finds out that he’s a talking cat named Bob, voiced by Simon Pegg. Sam tries to capture Bob and ends up back in the World of Luck, where all of the world’s good luck and bad luck is made. Can she find a way to get a lucky penny back? What kind of mysteries will be uncovered in the world of good luck and bad luck? 

So, you get that the mindset with Skydance Animation is that when they hired the man who directed Toy Story, was a co-founder of one of the world’s most famous animation studios means your films will be hits right? Well, let’s just remember the other side of Lasseter that was an intensely terrible boss that also made some bad decisions like greenlighting their first big failure with Cars 2, and strong-arming many projects. Well, that’s what feels like happened when watching this film. The overall theme of the film is one that everyone has seen before, where they want a life that’s all easy street with good luck, and that bad luck is objectively terrible. It takes the perspective of how bad luck can be a good thing, depending on how you look at it and how it can help pivot your life. It’s a philosophy of needing a balance between good and bad luck. The film sort of tackles this from time to time, but its main use of this theme is near the end, and getting to that solid moral is not the best journey. For a film that wants to feel grand in scope and has this majestic whimsical music by John Debney, the film is very small in scale. Maybe it’s because the director has mostly worked on DTV films, or they wanted it to take place in one location, or maybe they had some production troubles with having the major location have a copy-and-paste look for the area of bad luck. Whatever the reason was, it just feels small, and the story wants to be more than it is. It doesn’t help either that you are taken through a lot of the World of Luck and how everything works, and that’s cool, but it feels like a rollercoaster ride at points. Not that it’s ever a bad thing, but the world itself feels like it doesn’t have much going for it. It has some fantastical modes of transportation, but that’s about it. 

Maybe it’s also the fact that the designs aren’t all that impressive. For a film that may or may not have had a reported budget of $140 mil, the designs look very simple. Simplistic designs aren’t deal breakers to most people, but there is very little whimsy with many of the designs of the characters you encounter in the film. The dragon design is fun and that’s about it. Something about this studio has yet to impress on a technical scale, and it shows that the rest of the world still has a ways to go with crafting animation in CGI on the scale of more US-based studios. This is why many of them try more abstract and cartoony designs to help cope with the fact most studios aren’t working with a $200 mil budget like a normal Disney and Pixar film. The size of the budget can matter, but it’s also how you use it, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been used well here. The overall animation quality is fine, the characters move well, and the designs are appealing enough, but there isn’t a real wow factor to the overall look of the film. Some texture work looks great, but other times the film looks a touch too polished or there was something with the lighting and shading. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the issue is unless you watch it in motion and compare it to other films that cost about as much or around that much. 

Character-wise, Sam is a decent enough protagonist, but her big angle of how much bad luck she has is inconsistent. With the way the antics are framed at points, you are amazed that she has been able to make it to the age of 18 with how her luck plays out. There also seems to be a plot purpose button to how bad luck is implemented, because it is never consistent with how bad her bad luck is in the human world or the World of Luck. Sometimes she causes old-school cinema levels of comedic antics, which to be fair, can be funny, but other times, she can walk around and function without the bad luck ever being an issue. The other characters aren’t all that memorable either with the only two characters that do leave an impression being Flula Borg’s Jeff, a unicorn, and Jane Fonda’s Babe the Dragon, because they have a history together, but outside of those two and a few quips from Simon Pegg, no one leaves an impression. The cast is full of talented people like Simon Pegg, Jane Fonda, Flula Borg, Lil Reil Howery, Eva Nobelzada, and Whoopi Goldberg, but again, they could have easily been replaced by voice actors who could have offered something more distinct. It’s a film that needed another jab at how to make the story feel more impactful or flow better, because it feels like a first draft at points or there was lost potential within the film’s world and story to be more gripping. Some stakes are set, but then quickly solved. It feels very Illumination Entertainment in that regard, where their films also have the issue of having problems setting up proper satisfying stakes and conclusions. Luck also has an obvious couple of spots where they are plugging in a pop song that they want to sell the movie on, but the song itself is very forgettable. It’s frustrating sitting here and looking at the potential the story could have had if they were able to focus on other aspects more than focusing on the lore of the World of Luck. There is something there with how Sam feels like she was given a consistently bad hand in life after her parents abandoned her at an orphanage and then thrust into life when she didn’t find a family, but it’s told in such a straightforward fashion that it feels like an afterthought. There are some potentially interesting twists that happen, but are then never touched upon again or are solved right then and there. They could have added a few fun animation details to characters and either they didn’t think that through or there wasn’t enough time. There were a few moments where they do add in a fun little background gag, but it’s rare, and you will miss them if you aren’t paying attention. 


With this being the first major CGI animated feature for Apple+ and Skydance Animation, it’s a decent start, but one that will be left forgotten by the time that award season begins. It might have a known creative individual producing the film, but it’s also got a known sex pest who may be doing more damage to the films he’s assigned to help craft may be in trouble. Maybe it’s time to realize that maybe Lasseter peaked by the time Toy Story 2 came out, and everything else was mostly on the shoulders of the other talented individuals in the company. He might actually be doing more damage than good for the company. However, with all that said,  Luck isn’t the worst film of the year or anything like that. We have seen films like Marmaduke this year, and the most offensive thing about this film is how it’s just okay. It’s at best, a middle-of-the-road experience of how everyone needs to take the good with the bad. At worst, it’s a film that maybe could have been better if they let the original director finish up the project. Who knows what exactly happened behind the scenes, and maybe their next film Spellbound will be better. That’s all we can hope for, because they will definitely need to start competing with other services and theatrical animated features that are coming out. Hoping for the best for the teams of animators working on the future films for Skydance, and here’s hoping Lasseter is not up to his old tricks for long. For now, let’s move on to something fun and different with the Netflix series Super Giant Robot Brothers

Rating: Rent it

The Other Side of Animation 266: Paws of Fury – The Legend of Hank Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Productions in animation and in most films and shows are never as fluid and hopeful as you would like them to be. Most of the time, things will happen in the production that you will have to account for, but for films like today’s review, well, an animated film shouldn’t take a decade to get made, unless it was some kind of intensely personal passion project. It was originally announced back in 2014 and was going to be made by Arc Productions, but then that studio closed in 2016 and the film was stuck in limbo until it was revived back in 2020 by an entirely different set of producers, studios, and directors. So, with all this wait and production trouble, what’s the final result for Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank? Was the wait and troubled production worth it? 

It was directed by Rob Minkoff, Chris Bailey, and Mark Koetsier, written by Ed Stone and Nate Hopper, and produced by Cinesite, Aniventures, Flying Tiger Entertainment, Align, HB Wink Animation, Brooksfilms, and GFM Animation. The story revolves around a beagle named Hank, voiced by Michael Cera. He is a dog that has been arrested for crossing the border to have a better life and to become a noble samurai. Instead of getting executed, he is sent to a small town by the warmonger Ika Chu, voiced by Ricky Gervais. When Hank arrives in the village, he finds that being a samurai isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and struggles to get the people’s trust. To help him on his way, he encounters an ex-samurai or in this case, a ronin by the name of Jimbo, voiced by Samuel Jackson. Can Hank learn the ways of the samurai via Jimbo so he can prevent Ika Chu’s evil plans from coming to realization? 

So, no matter how the end product was going to be by the time it finally came out, making a family-friendly Blazing Saddles was going to be a bad idea, because it’s just not remaking or adapting a comedy, it’s adapting and loosely making a comedy based around a film that had extremely specific goals. The origins of the 70s comedy classic were all about demystifying the western that was made through the lens of Hollywood media, and constantly poking fun at how absurd and awful racists are. Translating that for a modern-day family audience was no easy task, and unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. What you get with this film is a compromised vision of it being more of a loose adaptation of the original film, but instead of humans, they use cats and dogs for the allegory. It’s a touch head-tilting when they try to translate actual jokes from the film, especially really risky ones, and when they shape it around this world of cats and dogs, the results don’t work. Now, that isn’t to say that the entire batch of jokes whether they be reinterpretations of gags from the original or made exclusive for this film don’t work. You can tell at very different points in the film, they worked extremely hard to make this comedy fly like an eagle. They go out of their way to make a ton of visual gags, dialogue gags, and physical comedy bits, and sometimes, they have one that works super well. Shockingly enough, a film that took almost over a decade or so to finally get made, doesn’t feel so pieced and patched together. It was impressive to see how creative they got at points to try and make this world work, but sadly, it is inconsistent as a result. 

Not to say there wasn’t anything to like about the story, since the comedy edge gives it a fun angle to be amusing and silly, but where other films that had goofy premises like Seal Team went all of the way with their stories and settings and made them intensely entertaining experiences, this one did not. What we have here is a film that knows it’s super silly, but also has moments where it wants to have an emotional weight to its story, and the emotional weight turns into boilerplate by-the-numbers underdog hero story beats. There are some decent morals to be had with Hank’s journey, but when you try to compromise to fit a family film angle to an iconic R-rated comedy, then you can see where the pieces don’t quite fit into each place like it should. We end up with fairly one-dimensional characters that are all voiced by talented individuals who are given a script that’s as uneven as their characters’ purposes in the film. Like, look at this cast. Michael Cera, Samuel Jackson, George Takei, Mel Brooks, Michelle Yeoh, Djimon Hounsou, Gabriel Iglesias, and Aasif Mandvi to name a few. This sounds like it could be a real fun cinematic journey, but due to how little screen time half of these characters get, you wonder why they spent the money on getting big names. Yes, you need the celebrity names for the people who pay for the tickets and not the kids who are actually there to see the movie, but at the end of the day, you are having to make a film that everyone can enjoy. Even without the questionable point of casting big names for roles that lack meatier impressions, even the bigger names seem to be sleepwalking through it, and that’s no more clear than Ricky Gervais as the villain. First off, the villain isn’t all that well written and comes off as a ‘what if the lead from The Emperor’s New Groove was more bloodthirsty and was a middling actor?’.  Gervais also just can’t act to save his life. He brings a boring performance that is stilted and has no life to it. You needed someone else with more energy and wit to make the villain more entertaining. 

Animation-wise, it’s fine-looking. For a film that cost $45 mil and was being handled by what felt like 100 different animation studios, it looks like it cost that much. It’s a shame they didn’t fully commit to the more stylized comic book segments, because going the generic CGI route leaves the film looking middling. When they were able to use the 2D animation or the comic book filter on the designs, the film looked its best. Otherwise, it looks like every other CGI film out there, which is a shame. You could work with this kind of premise if you are able to do so from the very beginning. The music is fine. Bear McCreary is super talented and the opening theme that plays at the beginning of the film is great, but everything else was mostly forgettable. It’s the typical samurai and 70s-style tones that you could hear everywhere else. It’s a shame, because the film’s opening song is still named after the film’s original title of Blazing Samurai. 

Overall, while this will be the target of many a roasting and hyperbolic rage baiting reviews as the worst thing of 2022 or to ever happen to humankind, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank is more harmless and forgettable than downright offensive. It’s hard to be mad at it when they actually put in the effort to make the comedy funny and not just be another boilerplate experience that somehow got into theaters. With that said, there is a reason why this film is tanking in theaters and why it will probably be on Paramount+ soon. Honestly, it probably would have been a better deal for it to be on the streaming service than the theaters where it’s dying against competition from the big studios and indie releases that people should check out. If you must check it out, wait for it to show up on Paramount+. It’s a shame this project took so long to get made, went through a terrible production cycle, and then gets released to mostly meh reviews and middling box office returns, but at least it has some memorable aspects and wasn’t leaving me with thoughts of feeling like I wasted my time. Now then, next time, we will be talking about a film I have been wanting to talk about forever, but for now, I can’t say what it is. 

Rating: Rent it!